Wednesday 18 January 2017

4 astonishing ways your baby’s brain develops from 6-12 months

Published 11/11/2016 | 15:19

The six month mark is the start of many new adventures for you and your baby.

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Emerging from the fog of the early months, it’s an exciting and fun time of rapid change as your baby really starts to communicate, sit up and try suitable solid foods.

What happens to a baby’s brain as it develops from 6 to 12 months is quite simply profound. Everything in the world is new to them and they are constantly learning, even while they sleep!

The neurons, which are the building blocks of the nervous system, in the brain of a baby engage in a process called myelination, enabling signals to travel more and more quickly resulting in much more complex cognition, language and motor function.

Here are 4 astonishing ways your baby’s brain continues to develop at an amazing rate from 6 to 12 months:

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1. Love of language

At around the age of 6 months your baby will start to understand his/her name and you will start to notice responses when you call it out. While your baby’s brain won’t be adding new cells at as quick a rate as it did after birth, it is still continuing to add new dendrites and axons. These are like branches that let signals pass from neuron to neuron to enable different regions of the brain to communicate.

Babies are busy trying to differentiate different sounds and as they focus on this they start to understand language. As they edit, their brain weeds out neural pathways not being used and they choose certain sounds and isolate others, which helps them to speak and understand spoken words. When you’re reading to your baby, you’ll notice that between 6 and 12 months they will also start to look more intently at the pictures in their storybooks and try to imitate what you are saying. Keep your sentences short and simple and this is a good time to repeat simple sounds to them like ‘mama’ and ‘dada’ so that they can try to say the words for themselves.

If your baby’s brain is allowed to focus without a lot of background noise or distraction they are likely to learn to speak much more easily. Over the next number of months and leading up to their first birthday, your baby will learn to wave and say hello and bye-bye and they are likely to also start to learn the names of their body parts. They will begin to respond when you ask them questions such as ‘where is your nose?’ and point.

2. Social stimulation

One of the most rewarding aspects of the 6 to 12 month stage of parenting is just how sociable most babies become at this point. The temporal lobes of the brain are responsible for language, hearing and the ability to interpret facial expressions and here the neural connections are becoming much more complex at this point in your baby’s development, as brain wiring occurs.

Your baby will love to be around you and constantly watch you and also start to recognise other people. When a young child babbles or cries and an adult responds in the right way with eye contact, words or a hug, neural connections are strengthened in their brain that support the development of communication and social skills. Your baby will begin to love

social situations such as playgrounds, parks and being around other children.

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3. Movement and motor development

And you thought the first six months was busy? You ain’t seen nothing yet! At around the six month mark, many babies will start to sit up unaided. This is an approximate milestone, however and all babies are different. Your baby may also start to crawl in the next few months and then eventually move around by holding on and standing up at around 10 to 11 months before eventually beginning to walk. All these huge developments are due to an increase in the number of neural pathways in the cerebellum in the brain, which is responsible for balance and coordination.

It is vital for parents and caregivers to give babies the chance to enhance their gross motor development, building in time every day so that their baby can really move around and strengthen their limbs and trunk muscles as the more they practice, the more these neural pathways will strengthen. Gaining a baby’s attention by using toys and encouraging them to grasp them or move towards them or talking to them and encouraging them to move towards the sound will really help here.

Bath time is a great opportunity to work on motor skills. Give your baby a beaker or a watering can to play with in the water. During the day, encourage them to climb under a table or through a large open box using it as a tunnel and reward them with smiles and a hug as they come through. Play with balls – roll them over and back between you; use stacking toys and always keep the conversation going with them as you have fun playing.

4. Cognition and curiosity

If you seem to be permanently picking up objects being thrown on to the ground by your baby, don’t despair - this is how their brain is learning how things work. A baby’s brain doubles in weight in the first year due to the growth of connections between cells used in thinking. They will be dropping, throwing, pushing, pulling and watching now as they begin to learn how cause and effect works.

Don’t discourage your baby as every time this happens, neural circuits are being stimulated and strengthened in their brain and the more they do this the better it is for them. From 6 to 12 months, babies use their senses to learn by touching, tasting and feeling. They’ll start to put a lot of things into their mouth so you will have to be extra vigilant. As they come up to their first birthday they will begin to understand ‘object permanence’, so that even if you hide a toy behind you, it is still there. They will also start to understand that different objects have uses e.g. a spoon for eating, a ball for throwing.

From dropping spoons to spitting out food, from babbling to crying when you leave the room – it’s all part of your baby’s extraordinary brain development as they head from six months old towards their magical first birthday.

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